Managing Stress

A level of stress that gets adrenaline and cortisol going and brings out our best performance is healthy. However in our 21st century world many of us experience undue levels of stress and pressure that make us feel overwhelmed and which need alleviating. It can be unhealthy and unhelpful if stress becomes chronic. The impact can be physical, mental, emotional, behavioural, psychosomatic and spiritual.

 

Our attitudes and responses to stress and how we address it will be influenced, amongst other factors, by our personality type and our cultural background as well as our age and gender.

 

Recipe for addressing stress

Once we recognise that we’re overly stressed there are several things we can do:

  • Identify what’s causing the stress and where possible take action to deal with stressors and make ourselves less vulnerable. Some are self-induced while others are unavoidable. The latter may be reduced by pinpointing the root cause of the strain.

  • Find support for the situations faced. Studies show those with good support are less vulnerable to the effects of stress.

  • Find and practice some techniques to help relieve the physical, mental and emotional symptoms. This is the main focus of this resource.

 

Techniques to help alleviate stress

Many people have their favourite techniques to help relieve stress. Here are some I’ve collected from friends and colleagues, many of which I’ve used myself.

 

1. Quick fix in a stressful situation

  • Pray, asking God to help you cope with the immediate situation.

  • Four by four breathing, also known as box breathing and by various other names. It’s a great way to calm both body and mind.

    • Breathe in to a slow count to 4 (or 5)

    • Hold breath to a slow count of 4 (or 5)

    • Breathe out to a slow count of 4 (or 5)

    • Pause to a slow count of (4 or 5) before repeating several times. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pq5EOFWYDCI

  • Remind yourself of the FEAR acronym: False Expectations Appear Real (sometimes presented as false evidence appears real). Often if we pause to think, the matter that’s stressing us is based on a false assumption or on expectations that we’ve assumed others have on us which are not necessarily true.

  • Stand back: what would be the implications if you didn’t do something (today? at all?). Can you defer the task to another day when you have more time? This can be so releasing.

  • How do you eat an elephant? Break it down into bite sized chunks! We are often threatened by the enormity of a task. However, if you can break it down into manageable tasks it becomes much more do-able and you may be able to take the first step.

  • Do the next thing: doing something is better than doing nothing. It will give you a sense of achievement and confidence to do the next thing.

  • If necessary ask for help right away from a trusted friend, colleague or family member. They have probably experienced considerable stress too at some time.

 

2. Introduce or reinforce in daily living

  • Make daily devotional times a priority: ask God to fill you with his Holy Spirit and equip you for the coming day.

  • Take moderate daily physical exercise as part of improving health and fitness.

  • Keep lists and regularly review priorities: what’s important and urgent, what’s important but not urgent, what’s urgent but not important and which is neither.

  • Take frequent breaks during the working day and book regular holidays in advance.

  • Tackle the complicated tasks when you are fresh and at the time of day that works best for you.

  • Flag potential problems in advance so that alleviating action can be taken by you and others.

  • Journal your concerns and thoughts.

  • It may be helpful at the end of the day to reflect in God’s presence on what’s gone well during the day and what concerns you about tomorrow. It may help to journal this. Then commit it to God in prayer. I’ve found it amazing how often yesterday evening’s concerns have not been realised! This is borrowed from the Ignatian Spirituality Examen exercise.

  • Review your sleep pattern and make changes if appropriate.

  • Develop a mutually supportive friendship where you can share life’s joys and concerns and prayer together. Introduce some “me” time on a daily and weekly basis where you can relax and choose what you think and/do. It could be as simple as doing in your walk to work, an evening soak in the bath or watching sporting highlights on TV.

  • Explore Christian meditation or contemplative prayer such as covered at https://www.johnmain.org/

  • Some may like to consider Christian mindfulness and Mindfulness Based Stress Relief (MBSR). I’d suggest reading the following article first: https://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/2015/05/13/4-guidelines-for-addressing-mindfulness/

  • Investigate whether the Alexander Technique may help you relax by adopting better posture: see https://www.alextechexpress.com/stress/ especially audio interview with Carolyn Nicholls and Sharon Jakubecy video.

 

3. When you can take a step back

  • Consider asking for professional help: be clear in advance what you hope the outcome of the help will be.

  • Take a short retreat (morning, day, overnight) to reflect on your situation and build this into your schedule two or three (or more) times a year.

  • Take a step back and consider your purpose and your priorities. Over time you may find it helpful to develop a personal mission statement (eg see Purpose Driven Life book signposted below).

  • Our self-worth affects our susceptibility to stress. Take time (ideally on more than one occasion) to reflect on God’s sovereignty, your true worth to Him and ask Him to bring to mind any forgiveness that needs to be given or received in your life.

  • Consider how you can manage others’ expectations better.

  • Identify what’s causing you stress and make a plan to address those stressors.

  • Find support for the situations you face (eg see Signposts below for How’s your support network?).

  • Explore ways to make yourselves less vulnerable for the future.

 

Signposts to other resources

 

Author and copyright: Helen Calder 2019

Peer reviewed by Glyn Carpenter